Pussy Riot Spends Night at Cambridge Police Department Following Harvard Talk

Maria Alyokhina (L) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of the punk protest band Pussy Riot, take their seats onstage for a forum at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge onSeptember 15.
Maria Alyokhina (L) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, members of the punk protest band Pussy Riot, take their seats onstage for a forum at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge onSeptember 15. –REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Russian feminist protest punk band Pussy Riot found themselves at the Cambridge Police Department Monday evening after 2008 Harvard School of Public Health graduate Roman Torgovitsky was arrested for trespassing. Torgovitsky asked a question during Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina’s appearance at the JFK Jr. Forum earlier that evening, where he openly admitted to being “illegally’’ on Harvard grounds after he had been arrested in May for an altercation with campus police.

Upon learning the news of the arrest, the duo and fellow supporters arrived at the Cambridge Police Department to “investigate’’ the situation, posting the exact address of the station to their more than 16,000 Twitter followers. Pussy Riot tweeted that they would remain at the station until Torgovitsky was released. The Cambridge Police Department replied that “an arrest was made by Harvard PD for trespassing. The suspect will be eligible to be released on bail tonight.’’ He was released shortly after.

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According to Torgovitsky, his previous incident with Harvard Police occurred during a performance by Putin-supporting conductor and violinist Vladimir Spivakov, when the graduate decided to express his personal disappointment on stage. In an interview with Boston.com at Monday evening’s event, Torgovitsky explained, “During the concert after I got up on stage, I presented Spivakov a Harvard cap, and also gave a 20-second speech about certain level of disappointment about the fact that he has always been silent with Russian opposition was protesting against freedom of speech.’’ Torgovitsky was then arrested and charged by both Cambridge and Harvard Police for disorderly conduct, and banned from Harvard property, reported the Crimson.

Earlier in the evening at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, Pussy Riot spoke with CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, who served as moderator for the evening, with Tolokonnikova’s husband Pyotr Verzilon translating for a full crowd of students and media. The women also touched on several other topics, including their trial they underwent before their two-year imprisonment for “hooliganism,’’ after staging a protest at a Moscow cathedral in 2012.

According to Tolokonnikova, the judge asked guards who were serving as witnesses what bad words the women had used in relation to God during their protest.

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“The guard said ‘feminism,’’’ revealed Tolokonnikova.

While supporters of their movement have been spotted worldwide, the two women of Riot reminded audience members that circumstances surrounding political activism are not the same in every country.

“The thing is that Russia people were expelled from their schools, or were prosecuted,’’ Alyokhina said. “You have to realize people [in America] can support us in quite comfortable conditions. While in Russia you have to endure difficulties.’’

“The support and the passion of people who came up to court in Moscow when were first arrested,’’ explained Tolokonnikova. “There was water was spilled on them, they were beaten, attacked and assaulted.’’

Now a mother herself, Tolokonnikova remembered the challenge of being separated from her daughter while serving her sentence. When asked what kind of values she would instill in her own six-year-old daughter, Tolokonnikova said that would really be up to her child, not her.

“Obviously I think she should be able to choose her own values,’’ Tolokonnikova replied. “But I do try to do a lot of political education.’’

Despite their international acclaim, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said while they plan to continue to travel to see the injustices people are suffering in other parts of the world, they will never permanently leave their home country. They said it’s not Russia that they despise, but its leader, whose actions they compared to “brain drain.’’

“It’s our language, our culture, not the culture of Putin — the main goal of us forming the group was to protest Putin, to create a protest as bright and loud as possible.’’

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The Riot members said that they appreciate Americans’ abilities to voice their own opinions, and cited Stephen Colbert as an example of methods for spreading the word on hot-button issues.

“If you talk about the methods, you have great people, Stephen Colbert for example,’’ said Tolokonnikova. “How you can approach those [political] issues we could take that as an example.’’

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